Monthly Archives: February 2017

More Information About Tech Challenges

Risk taking is second nature to most entrepreneurs, but technology issues can make them turn cautious. Too often, business owners believe they don’t have the expertise or financial resources to take full advantage of technology. But by limiting their use of tech, they also limit their growth opportunities in our always-on, always-connected world.

Turns out, many of these misgivings about tech may be based on misperceptions. Here are three common misconceptions that your business may need to move beyond to open new pathways for growth and innovation:

1. Advanced security protection is too expensive and complicated for most small businesses.
Your data is one of your company’s greatest assets, so investing in its security should be a top priority. The good news is that you don’t need a big IT budget because many security measures are free or inexpensive. In many cases, it doesn’t cost a penny extra to regularly download software updates, take advantage of your operating system’s encryption capabilities, enforce the use of strong passwords and use internet browsers with security features.

One option is Tinfoil Security, which tests your website for vulnerabilities against virtual attacks. Costs start at $59 per month. Another solution to consider is having a portable, encrypted hard drive such as Western Digital’s My Book Essential, starting around $100 for up to 1.5 Terabytes of storage with automatic, continuous data backup and password protection.

2. Reaching more customers requires an in-house social media genius.
You may not be able to afford a social media expert, but that doesn’t mean you can’t use social networks to get the word out about your products and services. Many free, online tools can help you increase your visibility, reach more customers and monitor your social media presence.

One of those tools is Brandify, which can help you assess the online strength of your brand. It can help identify simple actions you can take to reach more customers, such as claiming ownership of automatically generated profiles and updating business information in online directories. Brandify can notify you when customers interact with your brand via social networks. And if your company has no social media presence to speak of, it can help you determine the steps required to get started.

Another is Monitter, which tracks Twitter mentions of your company, as well as your competition, in real-time for free. Keep this interface open on your Internet browser and you can remain in-the-know as to what people are saying about your product or service and how your competition fits into the picture.

For managing multiple online social profiles for your business, try a social media dashboard such as Hootsuite. It offers a free version or a professional version ($9.99 per month) with advanced features such as managing unlimited social profiles and message scheduling.

3. Most small businesses can’t afford remote work arrangements.
Advances in technology have enabled us to do our work from practically anywhere at any time. Yet, what many entrepreneurs may not know is that providing employees with remote capabilities can be affordable and even preferable to in-house work arrangements. Remote workers are often more productive and satisfied, plus they give business owners access to a larger talent pool.

Thanks to the power of cloud computing and the wide range of software available over the Internet, you can cost effectively enable employees to work remotely, sometimes even eliminating the need for physical office space, networking infrastructure and an expensive lease.

For instance, programs such as Microsoft Office 365 can give workers online access to a complete set of communication and collaboration tools for $6 per user, per month. And there’s Evernote, which offers a collection of applications to help store and organize information including webpages, photos and text notes. This can make it easier for remote workers to stay connected to the information they need the most, whenever and wherever they need it.

Small businesses also can choose from a number of cloud-based solutions designed to make specific workplace tasks more efficient for mobile employees. San Francisco-based Xobni Pro ($45 per user, per year) can help workers develop and maintain their relationships with customers, peers and industry influencers. This cloud-based solution indexes all of your contacts –even those that aren’t in your address book but that you have interacted with over email, SMS or phone calls — through an application that’s available on any mobile operating system.

Prevent a Website Crash After a Traffic Spike

Q: How can I manage crash-inducing traffic spikes to my website?

A: First off, congratulations–this is a good problem to have. Maybe a new product on your retail website got big media attention. Suddenly your online traffic jumped sevenfold, and 90 minutes later, your site shut down, the victim of too many consumers trying to access your product.

What could have prevented this catastrophe is a content delivery network (CDN) from Akamai, Amazon, CDNetworks or one of the many other providers worldwide. It’s a cloud-based automatic scaling service designed to optimize the delivery of any content–most commonly software and video–to your customers in the most reliable fashion. With a CDN in place, customers can access your site no matter how many visitors have the same idea at the same time. And they can quickly download your content whether they’re across town or halfway around the world.

We turned to Michael Kuperman, senior director of platform operations at Akamai, who has a decade of experience in the content delivery network space.

Who needs a CDN?
If your consumer base is distributed over a wide geographic area, or if you have predictable online traffic patterns–for example, you know Cyber Monday and Mother’s Day are big days–or concerns about unexpected flash crowds due to content or a promotion, you need a CDN. If you require online speed to compete with rivals, as you would with online shopping services or travel reservations, you need a CDN. If your concern is a denial of service or cyber attacks, you, too, need a CDN.

Who doesn’t need one?
If your business is regional with a focus on local customers, you might not need one. If your website’s revenue isn’t tied to its performance, or if you have no global audience or no chance of showing up on Yahoo News, you don’t need a CDN.

How do you choose a CDN?
If your network is to serve, say, the Chinese market, you’ll want a CDN with a Chinese presence to add stability. You’ll also need to know if the CDN will support your application and meet your goals. And ask your short list of providers if they’re willing to do a head-to-head test using your application and content.

How much do CDNs charge?
If yours is a video delivery site, you’ll likely be charged in GBT (gigabytes transferred) or Mbps (megabits per second). If you have a shopping site or advertising application, costs may be by transaction, page views or other metrics related to your application. The prices per data delivery or transaction requests are mere fractions of a penny, but when you’re talking about millions of people flooding your site, keep in mind that it can quickly add up to real money.

How fast can a CDN be put into place?
With a good provider, once the terms are ironed out, turning it on can take just a few minutes. However, complicated applications can take a few days or weeks to configure. Give yourself at least one month to sort out what you need and whom you’ll use so you can make sure you’re getting a good deal.

Buying a Smartphone or Tablet

Choosing a mobile device for work isn’t just a matter of deciding whether you want an Android smartphone or an iPhone. Maybe what you really need is a large tablet, or a small tablet, or a netbook or a phone/tablet hybrid.

Your choice will depend largely on what you need to do with the mobile device and where you’ll be using it. Answering these simple questions can help you decide which kind of device will meet your mobile work needs.

1. How portable should it be?
Do you regularly carry a briefcase, purse or computer bag? If not — and if you’d rather not start — then a smaller smartphone that slips into your pocket is probably best.

Many smartphones, including the iPhone 4S, are 4.5 inches tall or less, and 2.5 inches wide or less. Hold various models in your hand to see which ones feel most comfortable.

2. How much typing will you need to do?
When writing anything longer than quick search requests, texts or tweets, smartphone typing can be slow and prone to errors. That’s when a physical keyboard can be useful. Options include purchasing a netbook or laptop with a built-in keyboard, or a keyboard that connects to your mobile device via Bluetooth or USB.

Before buying a keyboard, make sure it’s compatible with your specific mobile device. Also consider how you’d carry the keyboard around. Many models, from manufacturers such as Freedom Input (starting at $25) or Inland Products (starting at $15), collapse or roll up to fit easily into a pocket or purse.

If you prefer writing notes by hand or need to sketch designs, most tablets are large enough for you to write with your fingertip. Some devices, such as the smartphone/tablet hybrid Samsung Galaxy Note, offer the option of using a stylus.

Related: Forget the iPhone 5. Apple’s iPad Mini Might Be Better for Business

3. How much battery life will you need?
Poor battery life is the downfall of most mobile devices, especially ones with large, bright touch-screen displays. At a recent online security event, a Symantec senior product manager said that mobile analytics show a steep weekday decline in mobile Internet traffic throughout North America around 2 p.m. local time. The reason? That’s about the time when many smartphones start running low on battery charge.

If you’re often unable to charge up at an electrical outlet, consider spare battery options before you buy. For instance, you can’t swap out the battery on an iPhone, iPad or Macbook Air, but you can on most Android and Windows Phone devices, and on most laptops and non-Apple netbooks.

It’s common for mobile devices to come with a low-capacity battery. Search online for your smartphone’s make and model, plus the word “battery” to find the largest capacity battery your phone can take. Sometimes “extended” batteries are larger in size, so you might need to purchase a special back cover to accommodate one in your phone.

You might also want a charger so you can charge both your phone and the spare battery at once when plugged in. Prices for such a package can range from $25 to $60. Other accessories, such as a car charger (usually $10 to $40) or any of the Mophie spare-battery products for Apple mobile devices, can also come in handy.

Related: 5 Procrastination-Busting Smartphone Strategies

4. Will you be working outside in daylight?
Many mobile devices have screens that are hard to see in full daylight, even when cranked up to full brightness, which drains the battery much faster. The Retina displays on new Apple devices perform well in full daylight, and there’s speculation that Samsung and other manufacturers of Android devices may soon be launching devices with comparable displays.

5. Will you need to record audio or video, or take lots of photos?
If you need a mobile device for creating, not just showing or playing multimedia content, then pay special attention to the built-in camera and microphone. Don’t just go for the highest-megapixel camera. Look for reviews of camera optics and image processing features.

Also consider how you’ll want to physically handle the device when shooting or recording. For instance, most tablets include a camera and will shoot video or photos. This is fine if you’re propping the tablet up for stationary shots or video chats. But to capture live action or pan around, smartphones are generally easier to maneuver than tablets.

A device that shoots high-quality photos should also yield high-quality video. But consider whether you need to shoot high definition (HD) video or photos. These files can be large and difficult to share or work with on a smartphone. If you do need to shoot HD, consider getting a small camera in addition to a smartphone.

The secret to good video is good audio. Because the built-in microphones in most smartphones and tablets aren’t great for more than quick audio notes, consider getting a plug-in microphone. A lavalier microphone to clip onto a shirt or jacket can cost $15 to $40. For an iPhone or iPad, you’ll also need an adapter, which costs about $25.